TITLE: Stony River
AUTHOR: Tricia Dower
GENRE: Historical Fiction, Mystery
PUBLISHED: July 24th 2012
A startlingly realistic story, Stony River follows three adolescent girls – Linda Wise, Tereza Dobra, and Miranda Haggerty – on their perilous journey towards womanhood while living in New Jersey in the 1950s. Each of these girls face different struggles: Abuse, Parental indifference, Molestation, Religious Zealotry, and Prejudice. This is a tale of women oppressed, repressed in their sexuality, caged by society’s views on what is proper; some endure many types of abuse sexual, verbal, and even mental. Growing up female in a society that treats women as lesser beings. Forced to hold your tongue taught by your own father to always oblige a man’s ego. A time where religious beliefs often bordered on zealotry. A society where people turn a blind eye to wrongdoing simply because it’s not their business.
Tereza and Linda are friends its seems the only friend to one another. Seemingly because they are both outcast although in different ways. While Linda comes from what seems to be a middle class family she has serious self-esteem issues. Tereza is a misunderstood and abused child. Truly these girls have nothing in common at all except a need to escape the constraints placed upon them by their families. In fact, their friendship is short lived, the discovery of Miranda Haggerty is the catalyst to the end of Linda and Tereza’s friendship.
“Tereza was the only girl even close to her age on the “right” side of the highway Linda wasn’t allowed to cross alone. Tereza moving in was like finding an extra gift under the Christmas tree.”
Linda Wise is eleven years old, her family isn’t rich but well enough off not to be considered poor; her mother is a stay-at-home wife and her father works at the town chemical plant. Linda is a sweet innocent wholesome god fearing young women innocent of “worldly things”. Linda is full figured and has low self-esteem.
“She flushed with pleasure. Occasionally, when he called on her in class, she sensed he saw through her hideous plaid eyeglass frames to someone he could love if she were older and thinner. “
She grows up repressed and kind of flails her way through her adolescence through trial and error due in part to her lack of friends and real world knowledge, but also attributed to her parents indifferent and self-absorbed ways their inability to accept their daughter for who she is and their failure to guide her properly to being the woman she should become.
“Linda remembered her own disappointing twelfth birthday. When the Stage Manager said the dead didn’t stay interested in the living for long, she’d thought of Mother, shut up in her room across the hall, showing little interest in anyone or anything. It made her feel hopeless and angry.”
The world that Linda Wise lives in is one where she doesn’t even feel like she can come to her parents after the terrifying event of being sexually assaulted after taking a ride from a stranger. She won’t even go to the police for fear of getting in trouble with her parents. And given the way her father reacted when the elderly store owner forced her to kiss him its really not surprising.
“Did you say anything to encourage him?” Mother asked. “No.” Should she have said she didn’t like him? “Did he hurt you?” Daddy asked. “Not really.” His hands had dug into her shoulders. “Well, then,” Daddy said, “try to understand how lonely he’s been since his wife died.”
Linda’s own father, the image of what to look for in a man fails to guide her as a father should
“He saw himself whisper into Linda’s ear and the two of them make their way to an alcove near the entrance. He saw himself grip her shoulders with his big, square hands.Heard himself trot out his authoritative business voice. Linda’s expression froze as he bit out the words “Don’t ever turn down a dance, do you hear me?” Ignoring her attempt at an explanation he pressed on, explaining the fragility of the male ego, the courage it took to ask a girl to dance and how humiliating it was to be turned down, especially in front of others. She was to follow along with whatever steps the boy made, laugh if he laughed, reassure him if he apologized for stumbling, treat the dance as though it were the most fun she’d ever had and the boy the most interesting person she’d ever met. Roger couldn’t make himself stop even after Linda’s eyes got shimmery with tears and her body rigid as marble.”
Linda’s mother’s own feelings of repression caused by her husband rogers selfishness, and disregard for her feelings. And her unhappiness with the choices she’s made as well at her depression caused by a miscarriage have had a direct effect on how she handles her daughter.
“whatever Bill’s job demanded came first. She’d learned the practical wisdom of that perspective from her army Wife-with-a-capital-W mother.”
“If Robert had lived, Roger would have doted on him and not stolen Linda away from her. Mom had told her countless times to put the boy behind her and love the child God gave her, but three people wasn’t much of a family, not like the eight kids her own parents had. The plain truth was that Roger and Linda didn’t need her.”
“Roger would never move away from the house he was born in. Betty accepted that. Those first few years she didn’t mind sharing a home with Mother Wise, as she insisted Betty call her. She didn’t mind taking care of her when she was dying, even though the woman called Betty a hick. After she died, Betty wanted Roger to give some thought to living near her mom for a while. But he said, “You’re the one who came out here and decided to stay.” True enough. She just wished he’d try to make it more worth her while.”
Tereza Dobra is a completely different case she knows more of the world than any child at age 13 should. She’s a street child running rampant, unsupervised and not cared for the way she should be searching for a way out of the life she’s living the daily abuse at the hands of her step father and a mother who fails to protect her. The circumstances of her life cause her to have far more “Worldly experience than any child should. And Tereza makes it to adulthood by pure luck finding a knight to her damsel and he surely saves her from her own stupidity. As much as Tereza had reason to escape her life she doesn’t know as much about the real world as she thinks she does, and finds out quickly that a young girl cannot survive on her own.
“Talking dirty was their way of showing they liked her. She only ever let them stick their tongues in her mouth and flash their dicks at her. Guys were so impressed with their dicks.”
“Jimmy hardly ever smacked Ma and Allen. He never hit their jaws so hard they practically amputated their tongues with their teeth. That time, he’d been scared shitless the hospital would call the cops. He bought her a Dale Evans lamp and didn’t raise a hand to her for months. That was when she was eleven and keener on Dale Evans.”
“the realization that Ma had been forsaking her for Jimmy since she was four years old smacked her clear across the face.”
Kept in seclusion since the age of three Miranda Haggerty is well learned, incredibly intelligent and a quick learner however the circumstances of her life in seclusion have left its mark on her personality. Raised by her father a Celtic Zealot, Miranda lacks the social skills of the average girl her age. Miranda quickly finds that the things she’s been taught about the world are just not what she thought. As well as having to face the truth of her son Cian’s conception and the realization that the person she loved trusted abused her trust and stole her childhood.
“FOR TWELVE YEARS Miranda has viewed the World through the attic’s streaky half-moon window, seeing half a tree, half a street and only the birds and clouds that passed by her scrap of sky. “
“She’s the best reader and speller in Sister Celine’s fifth-grade class and excels at religious studies; she’d be in a higher grade if she knew more about such things as the Pilgrims and the Gold Rush.”
Miranda begins to adapt to the world around her. Miranda and her son Cian become wards of a Catholic Orphanage run by Nuns now thrust into a world of Catholic dogma bordering on religious zealotry.
“Once a week Mother Alfreda tries to guide Miranda into a trance state. Last week she had her gaze at a crucifix because, hundreds of years ago, Christ had visited mystic-turned-saint Margaret Mary with his hands and feet bloodied as if he’d just fallen off the cross.”
Miranda adapts by combining the similarities between the Celtic religion she’s been raised with and the Catholic religion she now has no choice but to treat as law.
“Mother Alfreda has instructed her to stare at the globe in hopes she’ll go into a trance long enough to entertain another holy visitor or to glimpse, as Mechthild of Magdeburg did, the “Eternal Hatred” of Hell.”
“You must conserve your mystical energy for divine visitations.”
Dower makes a pointed comparison between the orphanage and prison.
“Mother Alfreda lays out orders: lest Miranda show a continued proclivity for losing a pulse, she will move to the infirmary where Sister Nurse can watch over her; she’ll be excused from the classroom so that she won’t be tainted by other inmates’ cynicism and worldliness”
It’s clear right away that the Nuns word and that of the catholic church is law there the children are treated no better than inmates they have no rights and are guilty. Surely some sin committed by them or their parents have landed them in the care of the orphanage. Miranda’s resilient though and adjust to her new life and the new rules presented before her, she becomes adept at maneuvering through a world she’s never known, and learns to bend things in her favor.
Stony River is inspired by the author’s memories of what she describes as a repressive time as well as some true crime events that occurred in her home state of New Jersey. Although Dowers main focus seems to be the treatment of females during this time in our history, she also touches on lives built based on society’s expectations, and a culture of and double standards rather than happiness, sexual repression and prejudices that plagued society during that time.
“Stony River sits on the peninsula of I’m Better Than You, she wrote. White vs. colored. Christian vs. Jew. Catholic vs. Protestant. The married sit in judgment of the divorced. People who live on one side of the highway think they’re better than us on the other and those in the big houses near the high school think they’re best of all. Patients in private hospital rooms feel superior to those in wards. Some fathers think their jobs are more important than others. Teenagers are no better. Jocks think they’re cooler than hoods and nobody wants to be a freshman.”
“She returned to her desk and wrote: Stony River is the ground asleep under snow, its secrets imperceptible from behind a thick pane of glass.”
Tricia Dower has done well here the work of fiction in my opinion sheds a serious spot light on the failures of society in 1950’s America, and allows us to appreciate how society has grown even if there is still a long way further to go.
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